Ben Nockels and Amy White didn't have to see recent headlines to know that hundreds of children are in foster care in Oklahoma and many are longing for adoption.
Nockels is executive director of the 111 Project, which is raising awareness about foster care and recruiting families from the faith community to foster or adopt children in the Oklahoma Department of Human Services foster care system. White is deputy director of the agency's Bridge program.
A story in Wednesday's Oklahoman reported that the number of abused and neglected children in state custody has jumped from 10,233 to 10,729 since July 1, outpacing DHS leaders' ability to find new foster homes and forcing more children into already overcrowded state shelters.
Nockels said the need for more foster families and “forever families” for children waiting to be adopted is critical.
He said that's why he is excited about the “Wait No More” adoption conference set for Oct. 26 at Crossings Community Church, 14600 N Portland. The Focus on the Family event is being held in partnership with DHS, local churches and adoption advocates.
Nockels said the conference's goal is to raise awareness about the waiting children and youth in foster care. Conference leaders hope to recruit families to participate in the foster care program or to adopt a child.
Conference attendees will get an opportunity to learn more about the process of adoption from foster care and they will learn ways to support adoptive families. Leaders with Focus on the Family, a Colorado Springs-based Christian ministry, said since 2008, more than 2,500 families have stepped forward to start the adoption process through 20 “Wait No More” recruitment events in 13 states.
Nockels said the faith community has shown that it wants come alongside the DHS to provide nurturing homes for children in state custody. He said about 850 new families are now helping abused and neglected children in state custody as a result of the 111 project partnership.
“That's game-changing,” he said.
Nockels said the 111 Project started in 2010 after DHS officials reached out to the faith community for support.
White said she was very excited about the partnership with faith groups because of the need for collaboration. The Bridge program that she heads is focused on targeted recruitment and retention of families for fostering and adoption.
“Part of the Pinnacle Plan is it states very clearly that we cannot do this alone,” she said.
The Pinnacle Plan was created in response to a class-action lawsuit settlement reached last year. The child-welfare improvement plan sets deadlines for goals during the next several years.
White said members of the faith community have helped to recruit more foster families but she is also pleased to see congregations become aware that there are other ways to provide support.
She said one foster/adoption family said there was a need for help with dinner on Wednesday night so the family could attend church and other aspects of their routine in a timely manner. Another family said they needed someone to help with housework. White said in both instances, someone in the families' congregation stepped up to provide necessary aid.
“You don't just have to be a foster parent,” she said.
Both Nockels and White said a big part of why the partnership has worked has been the establishment of relationships among DHS representatives and the faith community.
White said those relationships, now strong, should help in the months to come as foster care and adoption advocates seek to find homes for an increasing number of children.
“We still have great need for foster families. We need that right now in Oklahoma,” she said.
Staff Writer Randy Ellis